“Under three things the earth trembles, under four it cannot bear up: a servant who becomes king, a fool who is full of food, an unloved woman who is married, and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.” Proverbs 30, verse 21-23.
If you read the rest of Proverbs Chapter 30, the majority of it offers more comparisons like this one. Including today’s set, they are offered in groups of three things, four things, and two more sets of three. Until today, we’ve also seen this pattern in a set of two, a set of four and two sets of three. Why is this? Answer? Beats me! In fact, nobody knows. It’s poetic rhythm, a literary device perhaps. Knowing that Scripture is divinely inspired, perhaps the Almighty wanted to record His thoughts in a poem. I’ve written poetry, and it’s meaningful and cathartic. It can be a pleasing and enjoyable way to make a point, both for the writer and reader alike. Mind you, I’m not God and this is just speculation, but if it works for me, maybe it also is one of the reasons why God wrote this like He did.
It’s also speculation for anyone to say there is some kind of pattern in it. Maybe there is some kind of Proverbs code; I’ll put on my tinfoil hat and read it backwards. Maybe that will reveal something I didn’t see before, but I doubt it. No, I prefer to stick to the idea of the poem.
But perhaps the best way to interpret the verses is simply to take them at face value. Like the verses before them, they make sense if you think of the Hebraic world of 3500 years ago. In ways of technology, it was simpler; duh! That being the case, I like to think that things we think of as simple today had greater weight and meaning back then.
For instance, how bizarre and politically shattering would it be for a servant to suddenly become king? If you were a slave and all of a sudden you were made king, wouldn’t that be a truly amazing thing? People would talk about it for generations. In fact, if you think of the verse as inspired by the story of Joseph (Jacob’s son), then that’s exactly what happened. A slave became vizier to the king of Egypt. Even more improbable, a slave in prison who had been accused of assault! Yet His Godly wisdom and unshakeable faith in God placed him as second in command in the most powerful kingdom on the planet. It happens now as well. For a more timely example, opinions of ideology withheld, think of Barack Obama. The guy was typical a decade ago; a true political nobody. He was just an average Joe, a state senator of very little prominence and even fewer real new ideas. But he had something. Today he is the president, the most powerful man on the planet. People can rise from obscurity to prominence in a flash, especially now in such an electronically interconnected world.
Then there is the fool who’s full of food. I read that to mean a fool who is satisfied. Maybe it’s food for the stomach, or liquor for the alcohol Jones. You could also put another spin on it and think of the obsessed man who thinks he’s finally found the answer he’s been looking for, or the control freak suburban mom who is juggling all the balls in the air while helicoptering over her kids. And what about the friend who parties all the time, thinking it’s the way to make friends and live a happy life? For some folks, it is; nothing wrong with a good party, that is, until it overtakes your life. If our eyes aren’t on what really satisfies – namely a life of serving the God of true love – then we’re just fools satisfied with elusive lies. Those things can fill us up, but it’s like being filled with empty calories of junk food. They fill us up quick and burn off just as quick and all we’re left with is unhealthy fat.
And what could be worse than to be unloved in your marriage? If you aren’t married, then what could be worse than to be in a committed relationship with someone who you don’t think is really going to be with you when you’re down for the struggle? Haven’t most of us been in unloving relationships with controlling people: nothing good comes of them. It’s a lonely, earth-moving moment when you realize that the relationship you’re counting on isn’t based in love. Those times can really rock your world. Since that’s true, then temper that knowledge by remembering how much more earth-shattering it is to realize that you ARE loved. We’re loved by God, and so often we’re loved by others even when we don’t fully grasp it. To quote Mr. Paisley, “I live for little moments like that.”
Finally, there is the palace coup. Personally, I’ve never been involved in one of those. I’ve never been in a relationship where a servant displaced a master, though I have been in companies and projects where upstarts came quickly to power. In those situations, generally things don’t go smoothly; think of that Obama example again. Shamefully, I was involved in relationships where I almost replaced my wife with someone else. It seemed that, every time I would get close to having it all, I wasted it. Or somehow things never quite lined up the way I wanted them too. Stupid Dave: maybe God was trying to tell me something. Every day now I thank God for His mercy and my wife’s patience and love. I’m more thankful than anyone knows that I came to my senses after being given so many ‘one more last chances.’ It was almost like a palace coup, and had it happened, I can’t imagine how different things would have been. Yes, there’s the possibility things could have turned out good. Personally, I wouldn’t want to know because I wouldn’t trade where I am in my relationship now for anything. We’re living proof that you can build back and that God does restore life out of lifelessness. THAT is the real palace coup.
It’s true that we may never know why the rhythmic pentameter of these verses clocks off the way it does. They’re constructed in ways that is fascinating, but more fascinating is contemplating how God is talking through them, what He’s saying, and what it means. We may never know why things are the way they are, but thank God THAT they are. On a cold winter’s Thursday, that’ll be good enough.